The Voice of the Orphan Caring for the Little Ones
November 14, 2006
The United Nations reports that some 143 million children worldwide have lost one or both parents. That's roughly equal to the population of Russia. In 2003 alone, 16 million children were orphaned. Every fourteen seconds, a child loses a parent to AIDS. Genocide, war, famine: These are just a few of the reasons for so many orphans. And in our own country, more than 800,000 children pass through America's foster care system each year. Some 120,000 of them could be adopted.
This month, Focus on the Family, Family Life, and Shaohannah's Hope, founded by my good friend Steven Curtis Chapman, along with nearly fifty other organizations will join together in the Voice of the Orphan campaign to raise awareness and encourage Christians to become involved in this issue of global concern. If we truly value life, what better way to show it to the world than by caring for life in its most vulnerable forms: from the baby addicted to crack, to the abandoned child with severe emotional issues, to the 17-year-old who is about to "age-out" of the foster care system.
As the Voice of the Orphan campaign points out, adoption is only one of many ways that Christians can help. When you visit the campaign's website, www.VoiceoftheOrphan.org, you can read about other ways to reach out, from praying for a child who is awaiting adoption, to becoming a Court-Appointed Special Advocate for an abused or neglected child, to sponsoring an orphanage.
At Prison Fellowship, caring for these little ones has been close to our hearts for years. Most people don't often think about the effects of imprisonment on the children of the incarcerated. But they are the youngest victims of crime. Twenty-five percent of mothers in prison end up having to turn their children over to the foster care system. Now, under the U.S. Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, states are required to terminate parental rights if a child has been in foster care fifteen of the prior twenty-two months. You can see the problem for the children of prisoners when you understand that the average sentence of a woman prisoner is sixty months.
Christians can help stand in the gap as one family in Montana did. When Alexandria Cobell gave birth in prison last July she did not have any good options for her baby girl. Thankfully, however, two Prison Fellowship volunteers stepped forward to care for the baby until her mother's sentence was complete. By providing a temporary home for the baby, they allowed this mother not to lose custody of her baby girl. In the process, Alex was restored not only to her child, but also to God.
Each Christmas, volunteers across the country help strengthen ties between incarcerated parents and their children through the Angel Tree program. Sometimes this gift given on behalf of the incarcerated parent is one of the very few ways a parent has to say, "I still love you," and to maintain those fragile bonds that are jeopardized by prison. And often, it's just the beginning of an ongoing relationship and reconciliation with God and their parents.
So perhaps here is an area of ministry for you. Come visit our website, www.breakpoint.org or www.voiceoftheorphan.org, and find out what you can do. After all, caring for widows and orphans is, the Apostle James tells us, "true religion."
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